Ask the Totebag: Transitions

by Denver Dad

DS just started high school. During the first week, he seemed to be a bit moody and was starting to show signs of the anxiety issues he had a few years. At the end of the week, he sent an email to DW, the gist of it saying that he doesn’t like HS and wants to go to an online school. It was very mature and well thought out. I know HS is a tough transition, and more so when you go from a small school (550 students total in K-8) to a 1,200 student HS. DW and I agree he needs to give it time so he can settle in, and agree that online school is not an option (I am not interested in debating that).

We’ve already talked to our pediatrician about restarting the antidepressant he was when he had the issues a few years ago, and we are working on finding a counselor/therapist as well. We are going to reach out to the guidance counselor to see what she suggests because I’m sure other kids from his previous school have gone through the same thing (a lot of them go to this HS).

My question is, what are some things that you did to help your kids with the HS transition that seemed to help? And conversely, what are some things to avoid saying or doing that just made things worse?

And we can discuss the transition to college as well.


164 thoughts on “Ask the Totebag: Transitions

  1. Here’s the update this week. He seems to be doing a lot better so far this week. His affect is definitely improved, and he’s been playing videogames and being his normal self as opposed to holing up in his room. And this is despite getting braces on Monday.

    He’s not the only one from his old school having problems. He has a friend and his friend’s sister who are both freshman in the school as well (and both were at his previous school). He said yesterday that the sister was really unhappy and wanted to go to a different school. DW called their mom to offer support, and she said the the sister is stressed to the point where she is throwing up and having diarrhea. The mom said that yesterday morning, the daughter refused to get out of the car and when she finally did, she ran down the street because she didn’t want to go into school. The mom also said that DS’ friend is also saying he’s unhappy, although he is not stressed to that point.

  2. Oh my, DD. I’m terribly sorry all this is happening. I have nothing to offer but internet hugs.

    I hope your son and his friends find their feet soon.

  3. Denver: You are taking the right steps and I’m glad that things are getting better. I can’t offer advice, but just support. The transition to high school is a b*tch. DS is a good student, and experienced an amazing amount of stress. His homework doubled, and Pre-AP biology was especially hard. The attitude was very much “sink or swim”.

    The middle school transition was easier because the school sensibly dialed back the homework until the kids had a chance to acclimate to the school.

    I am looking forward to this conversation because younger DS will be going to high school next year, and I’m already dreading it.

  4. Could you set them up with an upperclass mentor who has successfully transitioned from the same middle school?

    Are there social problems at the high school that are exacerbating the anxiety? For a while, my high school had a gang that was setting fires as an initiation activity, so maybe there is something like that or bullying going on?

  5. Denver,

    For both your son and his friend – what is the source of the stress and anxiety?

  6. DD – not at the point of HS transitions yet. I hope the issues are resolved soon.

    For lower grades I find it is helpful to talk to my kids about what to expect.
    If both of us don’t know, I encourage them to talk to siblings of friends who are older.
    I email the administration if I have questions.
    Also, I encourage my kids not be afraid to ask their teachers. It has helped to have an informal network of kids and parents they and I can talk to. Similarly, I help other parents and kids with information to smoothen their transitions.

  7. DD,
    You are doing all of the right things. Most important is that you are creating a home environment in which he feels comfortable sharing his distress. Keeping that dialogue open while also expressing confidence in his ability to overcome whatever is causing stress will be critical. Though it’s difficult to watch him struggle, it would be far worse if he were hiding his pain behind a wall of teenage boy bravado.

    Is it academic or social issues that are the primary stressors?

  8. DD#2 is in a similar boat – going from private school (about 400 K-8) to a public HS (just over 2,200). Graduating class was 40, with about 25% going to this HS, some are zoned there, several are transfers, including her. School had an orientation in June – 2 half days, then a couple of hours a few days before school started to get books/lockers and have a pep rally.

    The kids in this group who are transitioning best are those who were involved in an activity before school started. DD#2 is in band, which had a spring 3 evening camp and then started almost a month before school did, with two of those weeks being 8 am – 5 pm and fundraising activities from 6 – 9 pm. Other kids are in sports, and one did a speech camp highly recommended for incoming freshman.

    Next, one of the girls’ parents suggested they meet at lunch the first couple of days so they weren’t alone in the cafeteria. That seems to have worked well (only one lunch period). Now starting week 2, they have already brought a few “new” people into their lunch bunch.

    Yes, I see some stress, especially when she didn’t understand she would miss a full class period due to playing in the pep rallies. That was game night, so she didn’t think she had time after school to see the teacher – school ends at 4:30 and they have to get to the cafeteria, eat, and get in their uniforms by 5 pm. She did go the next morning and work it out.

    DD#1 had a similar experience. Now entering junior year and going to a different school that her sister, went to a HS that while about the same size as her K-8 school,had no one from her MS had ever attended and only one other student a year below her has attended. They also had an orientation two days before school started – day 1 was getting to know each other and day 2 was a Catholic Diosease required class regarding sexual harassment. Freshman year she ran cross country, that started before the school year began and was her first introduction to people. Then band, as a number of the private MS bands in the area all shared a teacher and played concerts as a single band. Students from those other schools attend her HS in higher numbers, so she at least saw some familiar faces. She also ran across 3 girls she’d met in Girl Scouts and ended up transferring to their troop. Finally, she joined three clubs that interested her.

  9. DD I am very impressed with the steps you have taken. So many parents think kids will “Just get over it.” there are really kids that need some kind of help. One of my three has anxiety and depression issues and needed medicine in addition to the other types of advice given to everyone else. He found his tribe and had an excellent high school experience in the end.

  10. DD – Is there something going on across the board with kids from his MS? At both my DDs’ schools about 60% of kids come from one MS, about 20% more from a second, and the other 20% come from a large number of places (and this is the group my DDs fall into). At first the freshmen in her band section, all from the 60% group, seemed cliquish. But, after she approached them, they have been very welcoming. They weren’t excluding her on purpsoe, they were just focsed on th eheir friends.

  11. I am sorry to hear this. I would probably have a period of time for adjustment while doing some of the things that have been suggested and then discuss other options after that time if things are still not good. Maybe after 2 months, agree that you will discuss other schools, if available. I think sometimes having the possibility of an out is helpful, even if you never use it.

  12. DD, I don’t have much advice because I’m about an equal distance myself between starting HS and between having a child start. I just want to concur with Scarlett that it sounds like you’re doing all the right things. I also think it sounds like he is quite mature to write an email sharing his feelings, and to be introspective enough to understand his own comfortable communication style.

    Are the teachers/administration using shock tactics (like assigning enormous amounts of homework or giving impossible pop quizzes) to try and scare the kids into taking high school seriously? Or is there bullying, cliquishness, or even just an introverted kid being overwhelmed by a big, loud environment with too many new people?

  13. His homework doubled, and Pre-AP biology was especially hard. The attitude was very much “sink or swim”.

    They said at orientation that honors biology is the hardest class in the school. DS opted to take environmental science or whatever it is instead.

    Could you set them up with an upperclass mentor who has successfully transitioned from the same middle school?

    I suggested that to DW because I think a lot of the kids from their school have probably dealt with it. She didn’t seem to like the idea for some reason that wasn’t clear.

    DD – Is there something going on across the board with kids from his MS?

    The main issue is as I said the MS is a small charter school and then they are going to a much larger HS, and not all their classmate go there. I think about 25 kids from his class are going there. So they are in an environment with larger classes where they don’t know many other kids. DS said he does know at least one person in all his classes except one, and he hangs out with a couple of his friends at lunch.

    Are there social problems at the high school that are exacerbating the anxiety? For a while, my high school had a gang that was setting fires as an initiation activity, so maybe there is something like that or bullying going on?

    Is it academic or social issues that are the primary stressors?

    I am not aware of any issues like that. DS hasn’t mentioned any. I think the primary stressor for DS is adjusting to the new environment. I don’t think academics are an issue – their MS is more advanced than the “regular” ones the feed the HS. For example, he said they are going to be reading books in English that he did in 7th grade. But it is a higher workload.

  14. Are the teachers/administration using shock tactics (like assigning enormous amounts of homework or giving impossible pop quizzes) to try and scare the kids into taking high school seriously? Or is there bullying, cliquishness, or even just an introverted kid being overwhelmed by a big, loud environment with too many new people?

    I think it’s the latter. I know I had a really hard time starting HS, and I knew half the kids in my grade and a lot in the upper grades. He barely knows anyone.

    His friend who is unhappy is one of the ones you think would have an easier adjustment. He’s a great athlete, on the football team (he made JV) and they started practice in the summer so he got to know other kids.

    DS had gotten into another HS (a new charter going into its second year, very small) but he decided he wanted to go to the local HS because most of his friends are there. I think the other one would have been a much easier transition for him. At the same time, he needs to learn to adapt to new situations, so better to figure it out now than have to deal with it later in life.

  15. Thanks for all the replies and support. I figured with the types of kids this group has that it’s probably fairly common among everyone here.

  16. “I think sometimes having the possibility of an out is helpful, even if you never use it.”

    I agree. I don’t have advice for the particular situation of starting HS or college, but this is a tactic that I use myself.

  17. I have little to offer as my kids’ post-6th grade school was 7-12, so the transition to HS (there is a separate MS program for 7-8, but everyone is in the same building, using the same cafeteria, library, gym, locker rooms, and, if the kid is qualified, he can take HS classes even when he’s in 7th grade) was pretty seamless.

    The one thing I’ll say is it’s always easier if you’re in a group. Although DD’s son doesn’t know anyone, if he can join a club of some sort soon, he’ll find kids with a similar interest and hopefully his comfort level will grow from there.

  18. DD I am sorry your son is going through this. I think you have gotten some good advice. One thing I would stress based on my DS’ anxiety issues is to really encourage him to join some clubs or sports or whatever that he is interested in. As someone mentioned already, finding your tribe makes all the difference in the world to feeling like you fit or you belong. It makes it easier to get to know people because you have a reason to be thrown together – it’s not just forced small talk. That spills over to the school day where you now have more people who know you. I’m glad he has friends at lunch, because I remember that being the hardest thing when my daughter started high school. Not knowing where to sit or who to sit with is so painfully awkward. Each day that he goes and it’s not a disaster will lessen the anxiety a little, and he’ll get more comfortable with the teachers and the classes. Online school, from a family I know who uses it, can be pretty socially isolating. Hopefully he will withdraw his request after an adjustment period.

    Good luck to your son, and to you and your wife. It’s hard to watch your kid be miserable.

  19. DD, I can’t say much here without just publishing my and Junior’s names. For Junior, however, I looked for a high school that was significantly smaller than normal.

    I agree with Scarlett and others that it sounds like you are doing everything right. One thing that I’ve focused on during this transition is encouraging Junior to keep in touch with his friends from the old school regardless of where they are going to high school. Similarly, despite our move, we haven’t left his old boy scout troop and continue with the same church. Lot’s of driving, but I think friends are one of the most important things at this age. (At any age, actually.)

    It is a tough period. The only thing that I know is the young man I dropped off for the first day of high school is not going to be the same young man that I hopefully watch graduate in four years.

    I’m scared to death. Good luck to you all.

  20. Is it academic or social issues that are the primary stressors?

    I am not aware of any issues like that. DS hasn’t mentioned any. I think the primary stressor for DS is adjusting to the new environment.

    New environment issues that aren’t academic or social?

  21. New environment issues that aren’t academic or social?

    I think it’s the “bigger” that is the primary issue.

    One thing I would stress based on my DS’ anxiety issues is to really encourage him to join some clubs or sports or whatever that he is interested in.

    He is going to try out for baseball but that’s not until spring. The baseball coach invited him to tryout for a fall freshman team but he decided not to because he felt it would be too much on top of making the adjustment to HS.

  22. @DD — Ah, I’m so sorry, this is really tough. As you know my DD is one of those high-anxiety kids; she’s my canary in the coal mine who picks up on vibes and tension before anyone else. For her, it was the period before HS that was hardest; she was anxious all summer and a massive rhymes-with-witch for the two weeks before school started (always the sign that something is up but she doesn’t want to admit it because she thinks it makes her look weak). In our case, she settled down almost immediately once school started, when she realized it wasn’t as horrible and overwhelming as all her MS teachers had made it out to be. That’s obviously not much help to you.

    I think the most important thing when you have an anxious kid is for them to know that you have their back, period. They have to know that you trust them to handle it and are 100% confident that they are fully capable of managing things themselves. But they also need to know that no one ever handles everything all by themselves, and if things get too much, you *will* find a different solution, because your kid is too important for you to allow him to be miserable indefinitely. I think it’s awesome that your son has come to you so openly and quickly — that’s something my DD would never do on pain of death, and it says that he knows he can come to you when he needs help or just to vent (and of course telling the difference between those two situations is the hardest thing of all).

    I think that’s all you can really do — just keep those lines of communication open. Yes, see if he needs his meds again; see if you can get him into a therapist (not affiliated with the school) to talk through some of his issues and help him develop ways to manage those issues. If there are specific issues that seem to be causing stress (e.g., cafeteria, keeping track of homework), maybe you can help him brainstorm ideas to tackle those issues (anxiety = fear of bad things out of your control; ergo, figuring out ways he can exert control, even in small ways = best cure). But you’re already doing the single most important thing you can do for him, so well done.

  23. It is a tough period. The only thing that I know is the young man I dropped off for the first day of high school is not going to be the same young man that I hopefully watch graduate in four years.

    I’m scared to death. Good luck to you all.

    I think we’re all scared to death as we go through this.

    And I agree with the first statement as well. The positive from this is that the email really showed us how much he has grown and matured.

  24. LfB, he was the opposite of your DD. He was excited during the summer. He saw the local Target is selling clothes with the HS name/logo and he wanted to buy a ton of it. He did miss the “Freshman Academy” because it was the week we were in Iceland, so I took him in a few days before school started so he could find his locker and all his classes.

    Yes, we did call to see if there was any freshman orientation or anything before we booked the trip and the person DW talked to at the school said there wasn’t. if we had known, we would have scheduled the trip at a different time so he could have gone.

  25. DD, I’m glad that things are getting better. You know our story of when this happened–refusal to go to the third day of first grade, was reluctant for a while, then seemed to tighten his resolve and I thought things had gotten better, when in reality he had decided that fighting back against the bullies, who were older and plural, was the way to deal with it. So I hope this is a real improvement, not an attempt at something that will dead-end.

    I love the suggestion someone made of getting together with kids from his old school at lunch. You said there are 40, so there ought to be some in his lunch period. If it’s a matter of feeling overwhelmed with the big school, I think you can build his competence by having him explain things to you. An example is the walk between classes. Saac has been in school for three weeks now. He was really worked up before it started, but felt much better when he could tell me the route from one class to the next. He’s still small (5’4″), so he’s found a football player or other large person to follow for most switches, which he thought was so clever of himself. Or he could tell you procedures in various classes, how lockers work, or the way high school kids act differently than middle schoolers. If he knows what’s cool, have him tell you that. (Mine doesn’t). There are lots of ways to be competent in high school besides academics, which your son is prepared for, and friendship, which is apparently not the issue either. Asking him about that stuff, even if he doesn’t know all of it yet, is a tacit recognition that it exists and that it’s a legitimate thing to need to learn. And I still stand behind listening more than talking, Special Time, and the other tools at Hand in Hand parenting. The founder of that organization, Patty Wipfler, has a new book out, called “Listen”.

    Pre-AP bio and AP bio the hardest classes? That’s good to know. Pre-AP bio is already proving to be the biggest challenge for my boy. It’s a good thing he likes his teacher! They need an adult sponsor for their STEM fair project (20% of their grade). I don’t know how we’ll find one! It’s kind of chicken & egg; if he had a project, we could look for people who work in that area, and a sponsor could help him figure out a project. So far he’s recognized that nanobots are probably too much for this, and is torn between comparing 3-D printed objects to traditional manufacture and writing an app that tells kids when their school bus is delayed.

  26. I am going to be anonymous today, for consistency, since I was anonymous last time I wrote about this. I’m sure that many of you know who I am, but let’s keep up the pretense you don’t.

    My child is younger than yours, but at exactly this time last year he was struggling in much the same way (except he was completely unable to articulate anything). I wrote about it here, seeking advice. He abruptly became grumpier/moodier than normal, holing up in his room, sleeping excessive amounts, and abruptly quit his favorite sport. In the moment it was impossible for me to know if it was normal tween behavior or if there was something else going on.

    In retrospect, I believe it was likely all rooted in exhaustion. He had entered a grade with higher expectations, he had gone to the next level in the sport (and he had a new coach he didn’t love after 3 straight years with a coach he was very attached to), and he was entering that stage where it was hard to fall asleep as early at night. However, at the time and when we were in it, it was hard to distinguish whether it was exhaustion, anxiety, or depression (or some of all of it). It was such a dramatic change in personality that it really had me worried.

    Here’s what worked (again, I know mine is younger than yours so the solutions may be different). We started him on f fish oil, as there have been some (not totally conclusive, but interesting) studies that fish oil can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety in children. This is anecdotal, so pls take with a grain of salt, but we saw significant improvement in mood very quickly. Within just a couple of days – it almost felt instantaneous. Second, we went back to baby/toddler days with regard to “protecting” sleep. Any activity that might mess with his sleep, we canceled or declined, until we were confident he wasn’t operating at a deficit. We even moved dinner earlier, just to start the evening wind-down earlier. Third, we stopped all extracurriculars – NOT as a punishment, but just as a “let’s reevaluate.”

    To my great relief, within 2 weeks he was back to his usual self. I really think I did not appreciate how many transitions he was going through & how hard it was for him. Adults tend to minimize how big these things can be for kids.

  27. DD – baseball is good, but he needs to be involved in something non-academic now. Really. Waiting till tryouts in 6 months isn’t going to get him more comfortable in the near term, and, just speculating, what if he doesn’t make the team? Then he’s put all his eggs in one basket.

    This is a partial list from my kids’ school; surely your son’s HS has some of these and probably others that he could pick one or two to become involved in now:

    Academic Challenge (like the old “College Bowl”)
    Biodiversity Project / Environmental Club
    Camera Club
    Chess Club/Team
    Computer Club
    Executive Council (Student Council)
    FIRST Robotics
    French Club
    Game Board Club
    German Club
    Guitar Club
    Habitat for Humanity
    Italian Club
    Political Clubs
    Social issues clubs
    Lego Robotics
    School Sports Network (broadcasts sports games)
    Military Science Club
    Minecraft Club
    Mock Trial
    Model United Nations
    Philosophy Club
    Physics Through Literature
    Quilting Club (seriously…and at an all-boys school!)
    Sign Language Club
    Spirit Society (really the (very rowdy)student section at games)
    Ski and Board Club
    Speech & Debate
    Trading Card Game Club
    Student Newspaper
    Arts Publcation
    Youth in Government

  28. LfB, your eldest is waaaay more like saac than I’d realized! I think you are right on the mark with helping the brainstorm solutions, even when they’re already obvious to an adult. Gives the kid ownership & responsibility, instead of more doing what they’re told.

    NO SCHOOL TOMORROW! So there, all you people who get snow days! TD9 is doing it for us.

  29. And let me add stage crew to Fred’s list — they *always* need people to come in and help put sets together and such. And the kids learn totally different skills that boost their competence and thus confidence (DD would send home videos showing us how she had learned to use a jigsaw or whatever).

  30. DD – Is it too late to start running with the cross country team? In the old days, they were never too strict on the numbers for JV, and it’s an instant “tribe,” and often one of the nicer tribes, too.

    Hope it works out soon, regardless.

  31. I’m having the same discussion re activities with my son. Yesterday was club fair at school, and he can’t join the only one he liked. I want him to have something outside of school; he says it’s too much to handle. For the time being I’m settling on some kind of “outing” with me every weekend–kayaking, zip-lining, B’way shows, nothing really brainy. After first quarter, I’ve told him that he needs to pick something ip, even if it’s just once a week. He will probably go back to something he’s done before, or he might volunteer in his old MS. There is a teacher there who offered to mentor him last year (she had him in 7th grade math, is bi-racial and told me his classes are much whiter than he had said), and who would come up with volunteer jobs for him to do. I’ll use Bright Futures’ community service hours to explain why he should do it.

  32. @SM — yeah. It’s really the competence thing, isn’t it? When they get anxious/overwhelmed, the best anodyne is something that reminds them of how competent they are — or an opportunity to dive in and develop their competence in another area (e.g., stage crew). All the other stuff is still really hard, but they can approach it more calmly instead of in mid-death-spiral.

  33. Laura, haha. I think auto correct changed it from “confidence” to “competence”, but that works too!

  34. Going anon for this, but I need some advice. My kid goes to daycare while both of us are at work. He has been going to this place for some time (couple of years)now. He either goes 2 days a week when I work part time or like right now, goes 5 days a week. He has never been happy going there, well, because he’d rather be at home with his mom. He is also not very happy around too many kids and fares much better in smaller groups. For example, he had some experiences where, while playing at playground, qother kids will rush past him up the ladder or down the slide etc and his hand got stepped on or he got kicked by another kid swinging etc. So he refuses to play at playground where there are a lot of other kids rushing and running around. We try to gently encourage him by telling him that he can still enjoy playing by being a) watchful himself, and b) being assertive and saying hey it’s my turn etc.
    Same issue at his daycare, where the seemed to be a lot of kids in his room lately. Now he has moved to second year of preschool and has fewer kids in his room, but also, his friends who he liked playing with (and were a year older than him) no lore come to this daycare. He unfortunately is also not very fond of his room teacher who seems nice but is not gentle and soothing or ‘motherly’.
    We seem to be lost as to how we should encourage him, help him get over his fears and guide our kid through his anxiety about playing around a larger group of kids and not have him be scared all the time. We want to encourage him to be more assertive but also worry that if we encourage or push him too hard, he will in turn feel pressured by us. He does great with one or two kids. He also comes across as very confident in social settings and is not shy. He will go to kindergarten next year and it will certainly be a larger class.

  35. I would let him know that the email your wife got speaks of someone who is going to be successful with this transition. Our high school has an assistant principal in charge of being nice to freshman. I am sure your school has a person who is in charge of that also. I would meet with that person (not with your son) and ask his or her advice. Next, I would meet with your son with a transition plan and timeline, maybe work to improve the current school experience for 1 month, leave open the possibility of going to a new school and have 2 months to shop for a new school.

  36. DD – I don’t have any specific advice now, but I want to compliment you all on the strong lines of parent/child communication, which indicates a high level of mutual trust and respect. The best resolutions for these types of problems usually flow from a strong relationship between parent and child.

  37. I love the suggestion someone made of getting together with kids from his old school at lunch.

    He does hang out with a couple of his friends at lunch.

    Milo, running is definitely not his thing :)

    I will ask him about the clubs and such. I have no idea what they have but I’m sure it’s a lot of the standard stuff.

  38. “Our high school has an assistant principal in charge of being nice to freshman.”

    How interesting . . . in hindsight it seems our HS also had one of those, but he was nice to all students not just freshman. The other AP had a more stern demeanor, so it was like a good cop/bad cop situation.

  39. To my great relief, within 2 weeks he was back to his usual self. I really think I did not appreciate how many transitions he was going through & how hard it was for him. Adults tend to minimize how big these things can be for kids.

    I agree, especially for the adults who had an easier time when they were kids. That’s great your DS worked through it. On the sleep, DS is very good about getting enough sleep, although he does finally seem to be transitioning into that teenage pattern of wanting to stay up later.

  40. “They said at orientation that honors biology is the hardest class in the school.”

    “Pre-AP bio and AP bio the hardest classes? That’s good to know. Pre-AP bio is already proving to be the biggest challenge for my boy.”

    At my kids’ school, a couple years or so ago one of the student video channel crews went around asking seniors what had been their hardest HS class. Bio was mentioned far more often than any other subject. Apparently Bio Honors is significantly tougher than regular Bio, as it is not uncommon for kids who are struggling with Bio Honors to do much better in regular Bio.

  41. “He’s still small (5’4″)”

    That’s small?? At my kids’ school, I think that’s well within 1 standard deviation from the mean.

  42. SM, I know the feeling. Schools are closed today on the Big Island, and our weekend plans are on hold pending the 2nd system on its way.

  43. Anon – is there a smaller group of kids in his class that he does like? Can you invite them over for a playdate? Can he find an activity he can do alone or in a smaller group instead of joining the larger group?

    One of mine sometimes likes to join the bigger group of kids for more rough and tumble stuff and other times likes to draw or hang out with a smaller (quieter) group. He’s small for his age, and has a very loud, dominating, busy brother. He’s had to learn to hold his own. Karate classes, to build his confidence, also seemed to help.

  44. A vent: I really, really hate the approach to Pre-AP Bio being so hard. They intentionally make it hard to weed out kids. WTF with a weeder class for 14 year olds?? At least here, they started with organic chemistry (in September of Freshman year), instead of something easy like plants. DH commented how the kids were learning college level material. This approach kills any interest in biology because it makes the kids think that biology is hard and/or that they are not good at the subject.

  45. DD,

    One thing that I did NOT do when my oldest was your age but I wish I had, was to tell him that there are plenty of good colleges; that learning is more important than grades (and mean it); that homework is not more important than sleep/family time/reading/eating properly; and that spending the better part of the next 3-4 years gunning for every point in every class and loading up on AP courses for the GPA boost is not. worth. it.

    You may not be in the position to tell him that (because, say, he will be shut out of every decent university you can afford unless he is in the top x % of his class), but in retrospect there were many times in which we allowed the GPA at all costs mentality to overcome what should have been our better judgment on how to spend those last years at home with our teenagers. Some kids, like one of ours, are so focused and self-driven that you never have to nudge them about homework and tests, but most aren’t wired that way in 9th grade, especially boys.

    Spending our formative parenting years in the academically high-charged DC suburbs, then moving to a slower-paced community and a (wonderful) school in which grades were deliberately minimized and there were no APs or summer/break homework assignments showed me that much of what stresses out our totebag kids can be avoided. By the time they are 25, it really won’t matter whether or not they took AP Bio in high school.

  46. Scarlett, that’s heresy to say here :) That won’t be an issue with DS, he’s not that driven. We have told him that if he wants to go to some of the colleges he talks about going to (mostly flagship state Us with major football teams) he needs to get good grades. But we’ve never pushed grades that much and he’s not the type A personality.

  47. Daycare Anon – I don’t know if I have any really solid advice, mostly because we are just entering this type of setting. From watching my kid in play groups and structured mommy/me stuff, I know he’s good with people, but hasn’t gotten very rough and tumble. And was only OK when another kid tried to hug him.

    Do you have the time to look at other preschool providers? Is it possible that he needs a different setting that gives him a “job” or something he can master and build his confidence? Like watering the plants, or putting all the books away? It sounds like he’s dealing with a rough transition like DD’s son but without the vocabulary to articulate it. If you can’t find a preschool provider, maybe a smaller classroom for K would be in order?

    Have you talked with his teacher to get his/her take on how your child is doing? Or, like Kerri mentioned, creating your own play group for a while to get him better acquainted with the other kids?

    I surely hope all works out. This situation sounds tough on all of you.

  48. DD – no advice on the HS transition but I do think it will get easier over time. One thing that I remember helped me was that everyone was coming in to a new situation – no freshman knew everyone in the class, no one had been at the school before, etc. – so remembering that everyone else was new too helped me feel less new. (Then again, middle school was the nadir of my school experience, so…)

    Our older kids started at their new school today. They get to take the bus (!) which pushes the transition to right outside home rather than in the classroom (what their old school was).

  49. Kerri and Rhode. He is in a smaller class now with few kids he has never liked so much. I am hoping the absence of friends will be made up by the smaller class setting. It seems like he may not necessarily enjoy the current set up but will be ok with it. What I am really at sea about how to encourage him, what words to use to not be afraid of the rough kids at the playground and giving up on playing at that piece of play equipment etc. He will go to kindergarten next year and by default be exposed to kids with variety of temperaments. He is supremely confident and rough and tumble kid with friends he likes, but will stay back when it comes to a larger group.

  50. my son is an only, and he is having some trouble transitioning to full day kindergarten…

    parenting is so hard!

  51. he started out okay, but then got in trouble for minor stuff several days in a row and lost part of recess. yesterday we got the “RED” note and a talk and he lost all of recess – he has ADHD and impulse control issues

  52. DD, believe me, it is heresy for me to say as well. I can only do it here because of our cloaking devices.

    But I saw the difference in my “driven” DS between the 9th grader who always knew EXACTLY where he stood in every single class, points-wise, and the 10th grader parachuted into a school that did not put a number on the top of graded work. After he got over the shock, which took some time, he really began to enjoy learning for the sake of learning. It sounds like a cliche, but I saw it happen with both of the younger boys at their new school, and it makes me sad to see so much angst from students and their parents when high schools bear down on freshmen and overload them with what often is pointless busywork and competition to get into this or that essential “gateway” course for the next gateway course.

  53. Houston, sounds like I can be happy that his class is starting with biomes! Pre-AP bio is a more exclusive club than I realized when he registered for classes: 2 sections in a class of 900. I’m fine with it being “hard”. My boy tends not to work ahead, so I’m worried about STEM fair, but that may be a lesson for him. Looking at his other classes, I’m glad to have one he will have to work in.

    Finn, 5’4″ average for high school boys? There are plenty of six-footers here, most of them a couple years older than ‘saac. And he probably still thinks of himself as smaller than he is; at the end of last school year, he was barely 5’.

    Fred, he wanted to be in the Nature Club. They had a goat at club fair. But they said he didn’t have a bio class. Pre-AP bio, hello! What they really meant is ag, so no. :(

  54. I second joining an activity. Being in the band has I think made it easier for my DS. He had a group of band kids who transitioned to middle and will most likely be in high school with him. My DD is now in band with the younger siblings of DS’s band mates. I know those families too.
    I noticed that his classes had lots of band kids and many with the same foreign language choice. So those two things mean common friends.

  55. only child,

    Is your child among the younger children in the grade? Research shows that kids with birthdays close to the age cutoff have more difficulties than their older peers. It’s probably too soon to tell, but he may simply not be mature enough for kindergarten, especially all-day.

    If you have other options, consider finding a school that does not punish little boys who are doing the best they can with their ADHD issues by taking away their recess time. Don’t mean to sound harsh, but such policies do not have the best interests of the children at heart.

  56. yesterday we got the “RED” note and a talk and he lost all of recess

    That’s hard. I wish schools would stop using loss-of-recess as a punishment for squirrelly behavior!

  57. he is probably younger than 75% of the class, but he went to preschool the last 2 years (it wasn’t full day though)

  58. Keeping, a few thoughts:

    – Talk to other parents to get a better sense of what is going on with the room teacher. When one of mine was in day care, a teacher was very depressed after a death in the family and although it wasn’t apparent to most of the parents during drop off and pickup, it definitely affected the kids. Switching classes might help.

    – Can he switch day cares to a smaller program? Does he have to go to day care, or could you get a nanny and put him in a half day preschool only?

    It is important for him to get used to larger groups before kindergarten, but he will find it easier to adapt and regroup if it is for a shorter time each day rather than for forty or more hours a week. Most likely the kindergarten day is going to be significantly shorter than his day in the day care program, too.

  59. I hear you on the recess being taken away as punishment, but from the school’s point of view, what other punishment could they do? I am truly asking, I don’t know the answer (obviously)

  60. my concern is if this keeps up we will either have to a.) switch to a different structured school or b.) medicate him (he is only 5 – we are trying to avoid this, at least for now)

  61. and I’m sure the regulars know who I am, just trying to protect my child’s privacy.

    we have had lots of change in our lives/routines this year

  62. Only child – if your child had any sort of accommodations for the ADHD, I would request that it include not losing recess. I wish I had fought that battle. (Dysgraphia son lost recess all the time for not writing out his math strategies with enough depth). Elementary kids need the mental break and the ability to run around. You can find a ton of studies supporting that position. A consequence for behavior is appropriate but they should find something that does not make the problem worse. And in my opinion, publicly making the kid red can be very demotivational for some kids. I don’t like that system.

  63. Scarlett, the first paragraph in your 1:29 post sounds exactly like my attitude. The result of all that learning for the fun of it is not just that he’s in the pre-AP bio, but he’s aced a couple of pretests this fall, and nearly every time I spoke with last year’s science teacher, she told me some story about either him bringing prior knowledge into the classroom or asking a question that she, with her MS and 2 decades as a research scientist, didn’t know the answer to. He tends to want to back down quickly when he doesn’t know something. One way to combat that is tying the new info into something he enjoyed learning outside of school.

    Does anybody know what they do with kids who ace pretests these days? They seem to be keeping him with the class in multi-culturalism (I had no idea he’d be in that class!), but I’m hoping they’ll come up with something interesting in honors English. Back in the day, they sent me down to take book reports from second graders when I was in fifth, and put me in with a bunch of eigth graders who had already passed the skills test in sixth. I have the feeling that today’s arrangements aren’t so flexible.

  64. Only child, I *highly* recommend reading Stuart Shankar’s book Self Reg, which I just finished and may give you a lot of ideas for changing the way you and the school approach helping your son.

    There are options other than taking away recess, mostly focused on teaching him and you how to recognize what is causing him to feel stressed and hyper and then either you can change his environment or teach him to use techniques to calm down.

    It also helps to change way you are framing the behaviors from “child is trying to make me angry” to “child is stressed and can’t figure out how to calm down.”

  65. We need to followup with the school, he had an IEP? is this the right term? for pre-school, but did so well, they wanted to see how he did without it for K

  66. Ugh, just looked back at that post & it looks boastful. I don’t mean it that way! I think this group has plenty of members with experience at acing pretests & I’m genuinely worried that the school will figure that if he knows the material, their job for the year is done, so he can sit and do nothing.

  67. Saac, some pre-tests are meant to be serious and some are meant to be a warm up/refresh after summer break. If you think your DS has mastered Biology and is ready for Pre-AP Chemistry (what comes after Biology here), then you can talk to the administration about having him tested for it. However, I’d be cautious.

  68. Only, I swear this organization does not pay me to advertise for them! I hope this is helpful in channeling your son’s exuberance. Is he at the zones public school? A school that keeps a kindergartner in from recess, especially when school has just started, really sounds like they don’t understand age-appropriate behavior. I don’t know how many choices you have, but a little one who is continually told that he is bad will internalize that message. The resulting self-esteem issues will make it hard for him to take joy in anything, be motivated, or try hard. That is not childhood!

  69. I’d get the IEP in place, as a backup in case if you need some accommodations for your son.

  70. Houston, No. Pre-AP bio is the only class that IS challenging him. Multiculturalism (social studies) pre-test may be the kind you describe, but in Honors English, it was intended as a diagnostic test, so more serious.

  71. Only child,

    I would think seriously about a less structured program. Youngest DS went to a terrific boys school in MD with log cabins, young male teachers and 3 recesses a day. The lower school head once told me that only a few of the dozens of boys were taking ADHD meds and that they sometimes advised parents to hold off on meds and let the teachers try other things. If you can find a school that lets little children act their age, it would be so worth it for your family.

  72. “child is stressed and can’t figure out how to calm down.”

    I need this book for myself.

  73. Only child, possible alternatives if you could talk the teacher into it could be setting him to do push-ups and/or jumping jacks (since it would be disruptive during class time, perhaps during that recess that she was going to hold him back in the classroom anyway?), clapping erasers outside, helping the custodian pick up trash from the field, something to get the wiggles out instead of punishing his inability to sit quietly with more mandatory quiet sitting.

  74. “child is stressed and can’t figure out how to calm down.”

    I need this book for myself.

    That’s why grown-ups have alcohol.

    I mean, there are also non-alcoholic means to calm down. But liquor is quicker.

  75. DD- what about swim team? My husband joined at his HS after getting cut from the soccer team, and it was a fantastic experience for him. Like cross country, many teams will let anyone join, and instant “tribe.” Exercise may also provide a good stress outlet for him, and trying something new in an individual sport may give him a big sense of accomplishment, as he would improve his times rapidly.

  76. “It also helps to change way you are framing the behaviors from “child is trying to make me angry” to “child is stressed and can’t figure out how to calm down.””

    THIS. Once I realized my guy was not purposefully trying to irritate me (and it did not help that he looks a lot like a family member who does purposefully try to irritate me), my approach changed and the stress levels for everyone came down a few notches. This finally dawned on me when he was 6 or so. Sounds so obvious that such a young child wasn’t being purposefully obstinate and difficult, but it was not obvious to me. The line between whether he was being disobedient within the range of typical behavior or was really just not dealing with the situation well and needed help was not always clear.

    The situation changed from a battle of wills, with escalating punishments, to an acknowledgment that he was having a hard time and needed help. I stopped threatening to punish his behavior and started asking how can I help you, I see you’re having a hard time. Mind you, he was still punished for not following rules after a warning (we use 1-2-3 Magic) but the explosive meltdowns became less frequent and he started to be able to regulate his emotions better. We talked a lot more.

    He was recently diagnosed with ADHD, but so far with behavioral techniques, we’ve avoided using medication. Medication at 5, sometimes that’s necessary but still that’s young.

  77. @Only: this makes my blood boil. Punishing an ADHD for having the wiggles is like punishing my 3rd-grade-self for not being able to read the board. And punishing with recess removal is foot-shooting stupidity at its finest. I should know, that was DD’s school policy. It “fixed” nothing, except to make her think she was a bad kid.

    Energy doesn’t need “discipline” and “punishment” – that is to correct intentional misbehavior. It needs diversion and activity *before* it gets to the “distract the class” point. DD’s best teacher ever always found helpful ways for her to get up and move around, from running the attendance sheet to the office to picking up/handing out papers to cleaning the chalkboard and sweeping the room. Not surprisingly, that was her best/happiest year in school.

    Since your son’s teacher doesn’t seem to grasp that simple concept, get the IEP back in place. NOW. And if the school cannot figure out how to handle him, find another school. Period. There is just no way that this ends well with such a disconnect between the school and student if you just let things ride or focus solely on punishing him as a deterrent to bad school behavior.

    Sorry to be strident, just reliving bad memories. My biggest parenting regret (to date) is not having my kid’s back soon enough and strongly enough, because I didn’t want to be “that mom” who thought her kid was an angel who could do no wrong.

  78. @anon re: pre-K: why force the large groups issue now? So what if he doesn’t play well with large groups of kids? Heck, I still don’t like large groups. If he’s intimidated or overwhelmed, maybe he needs to know that it’s ok, that it’s perfectly normal for someone his age to feel like that, and that as he gets older, he will feel better about it.

    I’d be more inclined to give him a break with a smaller group or different daycare arrangement for this year to let him relax and build up his confidence, and let next year take care of itself when it gets here. Then again, I am apparently feeling all sentimental and sappy today, so grain of salt.

    @SM: I did in fact mean “competence” earlier. With my kid, feeling competent to tackle something – knowing what to expect, knowing the routine, knowing others’ expectations – is what builds the “real” kind of confidence she needs to get through HS (and other challenges). So sometimes the best way to help her feel better about some school stress is to do something like ask her to make dinner as a favor to me, so she can remind herself how competent she is at Basic Adulting, even if precalc is currently giving her fits.

  79. “My biggest parenting regret (to date) is not having my kid’s back soon enough and strongly enough, because I didn’t want to be “that mom” who thought her kid was an angel who could do no wrong.”


  80. Agree completely with LfB & HM on how to address the wiggles. The other thing…how about the carrot vs. the stick? Make it thru the morning and you get to X; vs keep doing that and you’ll lose the privilege of Y?

    Having gone thru this with 3 kids, I still don’t know the universal right answer to the ‘how do you motivate them the right way, speaking about academic motivation here. When the grades aren’t where we want them to be some (e.g. MIL) would say, take away the sports, the extracurriculars, the fun stuff until they get on the right track. OK, fine. But what if those are the things that motivate the kid to do even just enough to stay eligible. Take them away and all his motivation is drained.

    I think I come down mostly on the offer an incentive/reward vs threaten a punishment/take away.

    Can you approach the teacher/admin this way?

  81. DD – Since I’m nowhere near this stage with my kids, I’ll just add that I too am impressed with how thoughtfully you’re handling this situation. Good luck to your son!

  82. ITA with LfB on the daycare issue. Your little guy isn’t in kindergarten yet but if he has a bad experience now it may set him up for another bad one next fall. Any chance to move him to a part time program?

  83. Only Child – can you incorporate walking to school to get some energy out in the a.m.? Or some sort of exercise before school? I remember moms of boys saying they did that in the early years just to get some energy out before having to sit so much all day. We had the green/yellow/red behavior thing through 2nd grade I think. It was fine for DD (she got in trouble for talking a few times) but I remember parents of boys complaining about how often their kids were on red (and these weren’t even ADHD kids, it’s just tough for five year olds to sit still as much as public school makes them sit still). Losing recess would make me talk to the teacher. I just find it unbelievable that teachers still do this because all of the research shows how counterproductive it is.

  84. can you incorporate walking to school to get some energy out in the a.m.?

    YES, do that, if you can. It made such a difference in my youngest’s behavior in elementary school when he started walking to and from school regularly.

  85. DD – So sorry. It is so hard. THis is the stuff that keeps you up nights that they don’t tell you about. I don’t have much else to offer.

    Scarlett +1 on your advice re: success. Also I know the school you are talking about in MD and it seems a magic place for boys. I think so many of the preschool and elementary teachers are young women, they just don’t “get” boys. I know I didn’t and still don’t “get” mine all the time but that’s where DH steps in to help!

    Only child. Could you park and walk the last bit to the school? I really do believe in the magic of sleep and exercise.

    “They said at orientation that honors biology is the hardest class in the school.” – this infuriates me. Why make the kids anxious before it even starts. You could say that it is demanding and will require dedication but that is just messing with their heads. In our ES the 4th and 5th grade teachers would go on and on about how “In middle school you can’t miss homework” “In middle school you are really going to have to step it up” on and on – it freaked the kids out!

  86. Only, my DS has some difficulty making the transition to full-time preschool. It didn’t help that his preschool teacher wasn’t very warm and fuzzy.

    What helped us was having my in-laws available. For the first week or so, they picked him up early, about 2pm or so, when the school day ended and after school care commenced, and watched him until DW or I ended work and picked him up. We had them gradually pick him up later and later, and after a few weeks he was OK staying all day.

    It also helped that another of the preschool teachers, who was definitely warm, fuzzy, and nurturing, helped him make the transition.

  87. Moxie, teachers at saac’s MS did that about HS. It really had him freaked out and thinking he wouldn’t be able to do HS, so summer was not fun. Sometimes he’d get excited about it, but then he’d remember the warnings and get all stressed again, so acting out, diarrhea, huge limitations on what he’d eat, too “tired” to do anything. It was awful, especially because I knew he could handle it. And then on the first day, he was relieved! But I’m not sure I agree with you about telling kids a class is hard if it really is. If something is supposedly easy, or they’re supposedly smart enough to do it, then failing at that thing can feel like being a failure as a person. If you say “this is hard, but if you work hard, you can do it”, then they are happy with small steps and willing to keep trying long after the EZ approach would have them wailing in frustration. Works that way for mine anyway. I think I got it from Carol Dweck’s Mindset.


    Kerri, I’m not sure how far into parenting you are, but one of the two biggest surprises for me was how much thinking I put into it!

  88. DD, as L mentioned and Austin alluded, the transition to HS is a big deal for most kids. It’s a bit bigger of a change for your DS than it is for some of the others because of the small school to big school change.

    Looking back to when I moved to HS, it was a bit disorienting for me, and I came from one of the bigger feeder schools to my HS, and had friends in all of my classes. It was mainly the time outside of class that I had to figure out, e.g., where and with whom to hang out during recess and lunch. Recess was a change too; the year before, most recesses were spent playing, e.g., pickup touch football, and suddenly in HS nobody played during recess.

    He could look at this transition as an opportunity. Since most kids will be in transition for a little while, it is likely a better chance to connect with other kids than, say, in a few months, by which time many kids will have found a group and be more settled.

  89. “5’4″ average for high school boys?”

    No, but it’s not short for boys just starting 9th grade at my kids’ school.

    Huge difference if you include all the older HS boys.

  90. “Ugh, just looked back at that post & it looks boastful.”

    Perhaps it does, but IMO that’s OK here.

    I’m sure some stuff I’ve posted about my kids sounded boastful, but one thing I like about this blog is the freedom and anonymity to honestly post things like that, which I wouldn’t be saying IRL,and to know that many of the others here will be able to relate to what I post.

    E.g., I occasionally post something about college admissions and HSS, and it’s not unusual for regulars to respond with something about their experience at HSS.

  91. Only, have you looked at a Montessori program. Tend to be gentler and the teachers are much better trained if it is a proper Montessori school. More expensive though.

  92. Why make the kids anxious before it even starts.



    Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. Try saying “it’s a lot of work but it’s super-interesting. The hard work pays off.”

  93. I mistyped on the biology class. They gave the warning at registration, not orientation, to warn people before they decided to take it.

  94. What Rocky said. The primary reason DD spent the summer before 9th grade in total freakout mode was all of the warnings she got all year in 8th grade about how HS is going to be So Much Harder. Blerg.

  95. So what is ” Pre-AP biology?”

    At my kids’ HS, there is regular Bio and Bio Honors, usually filled mostly with freshmen. And then there is AP Bio, usually filled with Juniors and Seniors.

    I assumed Pre-AP Biology referred to the regular Bio and Bio Honors. Is it actually something else?

  96. So what is ” Pre-AP biology?”

    Yeah, I wasn’t even going to go there. We had Honors Bio, in which we learned about the stages of mitosis and meiosis, and the ozone layer, and microscopes, and cells, and diffusion and osmosis, and I dunno, a bunch of crap. Why not call it Bio I and Bio II? Whatever. I’m old.

  97. My kids school has a very take it as it comes approach. No telling youngers how hard it is, just that they will have more responsibility, will need to step up, to pay attention and ask their teachers. Sometimes, I feel it is too under the radar. Evaluations and observations are taking place but a big deal is not made.

    In sixth grade the emphasis was getting the kids to adjust to the posting online of assignments, making the kids understand the policies of each teacher, getting used to more emphasis on quizzes, tests and assignments with deadlines. Also emphasis on time spent reviewing the material after class vs. just filling in homework for grades. Easier work overall and more time spent on adjustment.
    In addition there was strong counsoler support and the kids can drop in to the counsoler trailer whenever they want. There is the grade counseler who will move up with the kid from 6th to 8th. She knows the kids. The trailer is just a homely place to sit and destress or cry with any of counselors. Many times it just kids having a bad day and wanting a break before they can continue on.
    If the matter is serious the counselors will escalate and serve as a bridge between kids, parents and teachers/administration.
    I was very happy with how it went.

    I value the input of this board, all the patents whose kids are older than mine. The day to day descriptions especially Mooshi’s on organization were passed on to my kids and the tips made life much easier.

    And for those youngers taking band, the awful noises that sound like a bad case of gas will transform into melodies by the winter concert.

  98. At my kids’ school, the prereqs for AP Bio are Bio or Bio Honors, and Chem or Chem Honors. I.e., there’s no requirement to take either Bio Honors or Chem Honors.

    So I’m wondering if Pre-AP Bio is a prereq for AP Bio, and placement into it is based on MS science, which would mean that not doing well in MS science would prevent a kid from taking AP Bio.

  99. BTW, according to DD, placement into regular vs Bio Honors is done by her 8th grade science teacher, who asked the class who wanted to take Bio Honors.

    The teacher did suggest to DD, and apparently some of the other students who did well in 8th grade science, that they take Bio Honors, but apparently it was not difficult to move onto the honors track.

    Staying on that track, however….

  100. I’ll end with there are activities the kids do outside of school where they get to meet peers attending different schools or homeschool. In addition there are the neighbor kids, so there are bunch of kids and adults they have now known for a number of years. I think it helps as school and the people there isn’t the only place. DH used to be a very hyper kid and totally emphasizes free play outside, especially for boys, so there is at least 30 minutes of that for the kids every day and much more on weekends.

  101. Louise: Your school sounds awesome, as does your neighborhood/neighbors. I want to move to your neighborhood.

  102. “Ugh, just looked back at that post & it looks boastful.”
    Perhaps it does, but IMO that’s OK here.

    Ditto to Finn. I’m surprised at the comments some people have made about how it’s considered bad form in some circles to post college acceptances on facebook.

  103. I didn’t want to interrupt the replies everyone sent in, but I have a question of my own, somewhat related. DD left for college a few weeks ago. I miss her. I do NOT want to be the clinging smother mother, but….what did the older members due to be supportive and hang on to their sanity when their kids left?

  104. Cordelia, that was when my mom started a serious college-football-watching habit.

  105. Cordelia, I’m not quite there yet.

    I hope your DD has an unlimited voice and text plan. I need to move DS onto one before he leaves so that’s not a reason (or excuse) for him to not call or text us.

    I also hope we don’t smother DD when DS leaves. Perhaps I should volunteer for a business trip or two to mitigate against that.

  106. FYI : (since I love looking this crap up) – the 25th percentile height for 14-year-old boys is 5’3”, the 75th is 5’7”. For 18-year-olds, the numbers are 5’7” to 5’11”.

  107. @Only – not a lot of advice, but following. My youngest is wiggly and I worry already about school problems. Right now we are in a preschool that is willing to meet him where he is, but I am investigating non-public options for him. Our district has had a lot of parents advocating for a formal policy that does not allow recess to be taken away – it is a hot-button issue here. It seems like such a counter-intuitive solution.

    Has anyone used these? I have heard good things about it:

  108. Ada – I’ll check with my DD on the cushion. Her classroom had wiggly boys who used a wiggly seat. They also used these bands to kick as they sat. All kids tried them out when they were introduced in the classroom.

  109. I wanted to respond to only with the kindergarten troubles. I went to kindergarten twice. I was a September birthday and just not ready the first go round (my mom was my teacher that year). The second time worked and, of course, I am awesome now. More importantly, I have no memory of being held back.

  110. “I do NOT want to be the clinging smother mother, but….what did the older members due to be supportive and hang on to their sanity when their kids left?”

    I don’t know a single good answer, but I know what helped me. I’ve seen that kids vary in their desire and need for communication with their parents and my oldest was definitely not the type to be texting me frequently. That was fine and I tried not to bombard him, but it did help me to text him now and then just to keep in touch. Usually a picture of his dog would elicit a reply. Also, we mutually agreed to a weekly Skype session. It was important for me to see his face and he wanted to check in with his dogs, so it served both our purposes. :) OTOH, my other kid goes in spurts of copious texting sessions with lots of emojis, so I try to match her style as well.

  111. Our school had rocking chairs and workout balls that kids who needed to squirm around could sit on. They also let kids use “fidget toys” (stress balls) and that seemed to help as well.

  112. Cordelia – it is so hard! My heart goes out to you. Like HM’s mother, we became bigger football fans, trying to make it up to where she was her first year (8 hours away) a few times in the fall. We always took her friends out to eat with us so we could know the people from her stories. I engaged (and still do) in text conversations whenever she wanted to chat, which occasionally was when I was in a dead sleep. I asked her to check in at least once a week so I’d know she was doing ok. (We never skyped because neither of us like it, but a lot of my friends do that with their kids) I bit my tongue on a lot of my mothering. I also tried to send occasional small packages – her favorite trashy magazines, snacks, and sorority logo stuff. I don’t know how far away your daughter is, but hopefully you’ll be able to get to visit her at some point. I wish I had better suggestions. And in my house, my daughter is at least chatty. I don’t know what I’m going to do when my son leaves.

    My DH actually took her leaving the hardest. I can remember our remaining family of 3 being at a restaurant and him interrupting the conversation to say “I can’t believe she left us…” on more than one occasion.

  113. Frequent reader and very occasional poster here. Sounds like some hard issues with school, at pre-school/K level and high school level. I reiterate what someone said about regretting not being a stronger advocate for my kids sooner. (I’ve corrected that and am now super-advocate, much to the chagrin of their current schools.) I just wanted to address a legal point. There are IEPs, provided under “IDEA,” and there are 504s, provided under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. IEPs include special education and accommodations, 504s include accommodations. What I heard described may (and I truly get that I don’t have all the details) just warrant a 504, which is typically easier to get. Parents can request that a public school evaluate their child for a 504 and/or an IEP. Just make the request in writing. The timeline depends on the state. Know your rights, know what the law says, and prepare (while I am a lawyer, I think most lay people can get it quickly). And appreciate in many schools that the staff administering IEP/504 don’t have as solid a grounding in the law as I think they should. That is the product of a lack of resources and training. And an attempt to fit the legal landscape into an approach of several ala carte packages, instead of trying to tailor things to an individual child (which is what the law is designed to have done). In advocacy, always try to keep the conversation framed on what is “appropriate” for the child (things can get tense but when you re-direct to why you are there, it can de-fuse the tension) and the legal terminology (“Free and Appropriate Public Education”) – what is appropriate for one child may not be appropriate for another. Another legal note. IEPs are established under a federal law (“IDEA”) but administered at the state level. So each state has their own rules, which must be consistent with the federal law. 504s are easier to get, more flexible, and the avenue for appeal is straight to the Office of Civil Rights. I am now passionate about meeting the unique needs of each kid, with a focus on the “twice-exceptional” (academically gifted, with a learning difference or other disability). My kids are great and will be great. We have the knowledge and the resources to make sure their needs are met, whether in school or outside of school (for us, there has been a lot of “outside of school” but it has been worth every penny). But I worry about the kid with needs like my kid’s needs whose parents have less resources or knowledge and who don’t understand how (or why) to be an advocate or know how to navigate the landscape of education law. So anyone who needs help can reach out for resources. And I am not providing legal advice, just providing legal information and the parent perspective as someone who has successfully (after a lot of trial and error in the early years) advocated for my kids in the public school system. (Now they are only in middle elementary school, so we have time for more hard years…)

  114. Cordelia: Once you figure it out, let me know. We will be in the same position next year. : (

  115. Cordelia,

    We are blessed to have our college kids 15 minutes away, but it’s still hard. The transition was easier because there wasn’t just one trip to drop off and say goodbye. All three of them popped in at home during the early weeks to pick up stuff they “forgot” or drop off stuff they didn’t want, and to steal food. (I would sometimes come home in the afternoon to find the remains of a peanut butter sandwich and chocolate milk, plus the requisite Calvin and Hobbes comic book, on the counter.) When youngest DS had the roommate from hell last year, he would occasionally come home with DH after classes and spend the night to get away from the noise and vomit. But even with that, they’re still not part of the day to day family life anymore, and there is no getting around that their departure is a loss on both sides. For a SAHM mom like me, there is no “work” to focus on, but there are plenty of projects and activities to keep a person busy when she no longer has to make the school/sports practice run and be “on call” for the tricky teenage interventions.

    Sorry it’s not much advice, but I keep in mind the words of wisdom of a good friend with slightly older children….”the empty nest sucks.” The good thing about having kids in college, rather than moving out for a job in another city, is that they aren’t really all of the way gone yet. With emails and texting and skyping, we can keep in touch as much as we think is appropriate, so it’s easier for us than it was for our parents. And, really, it’s all good. We’re raising kids to be responsible, caring adults just like we are :) and who among us would like to go back and live with their parents in their childhood home? Let yourself feel sad, because it’s normal to miss our kids just when they were becoming really fun to be around and capable of driving themselves around.

  116. On the empty nest topic, my experience differs from other relevant posters by just a scant generation, but it feels like half a century. There were no cell phones, and email only in limited in lieu of snail mail use for the two youngest. They came home twice a year. However, when the youngest left for college, I moved into a nice apt with 3 bedrooms one twon over from our previous 20 yr home in a desirable zip code dump. I took a new position with lots of travel. I started to date -didn’t choose to do that with teens in the house. Later on, we didn’t decamp for a retirement destination, and the kids are back or frequent visitors.


  117. I’m curious how big people’s kids’ high schools are. growing up, around 400 for four grades was normal to me. Here, now, the smallest public high schools are nearly 1500, and several (including saac’s) are over 2500. The county works to keep a mix of income groups in each.

  118. Ada – If the wiggle cushion doesn’t help, you can also try tying those thin, stretchy exercise bands – resistance loop bands – around the base of the chair, creating a foot rest, but one that stretches and moves. Great for kids with restless legs, especially if their legs don’t quite reach the floor. One of mine had this on his designated chair at school and home for a while.

  119. My high school was like 1500 but just 10, 11 and 12. The current high school for my daughter is 2100 for 9-12. But it is like a small city. They don’t have adequate lunch facilities for the kids so most kids bring their own and sit on the floor. This is supposedly one of the best high schools in the country. I just don’t see it. The kids do well but I think that is more because of the parents not because of the school.

  120. Rocky, when you put it that way… I wouldn’t want anyone doing the first either. The second also sounds like “it will be hard” to my ears.

    Louise, yes; yes, yes! That is the same load of crap they dumped on kids at my boy’s school ALL YEAR LONG. “You are not adequate for high school. There is a magic jump in maturity that is required or YOU WILL FAIL. You forgot something? Better not do that at high school!!! Want to use the restroom or library during class? Better not… ….!!! Had ‘saac and anyone who wanted to do well scared out of their pants. And now he says “high school is SO MUCH BETTER than middle school, cause they’re not in our faces.

    Honors bio is probably similar to pre-AP bio.

  121. Ada and Finn, well yeah, 5’4″ is not tiny for a kid who will turn 14 in 1.5 months. But when he’s walking through the halls, the other kids aren’t all his age. He is small compared to others in that environment.

  122. Saac, the high school I went to in the Northeast was about 2,100 students with an average class size of 30-32.

    Had we not moved, the public high school Junior would have attended is 3,300 students with an average class of 35-39 (even though it’s not allowed to be that high).

    I think it takes a certain kind of kid to thrive in that sort of environment and I suspect most kids fall through the cracks.

  123. SM – the public high schools we have been zoned to here have ranged from 3000-3700 kids. When Palin was running for VP we discussed how the town she was mayor of was smaller than two high schools here. My graduating class was 160. The schools we moved our kids to had graduating classes of around 100 (DD) and 40( DS). It was my opinion that the administrators did not have sufficient bandwidth to manage that many kids. That was confirmed when my 14 year old DD came home from school and told me about a girl performing oral sex on a boy about 30 yards from where she was sitting outside having her lunch, while another boy filmed it on his phone. That sealed my pitch for a smaller private school.

  124. SM – kids target HS will be approx. 1400.
    The trend here is to try and go small whether that means charter schools or magnet programs sharing space within traditional high schools. Increasing school age population here has made elementary, middle and high schools in certain pockets larger and crowded.

  125. My high school had about 2,000 students, and the one my kids are slated to attend is about the same. Personally, I went to all academic classes with the same group of approximately 40-50 kids, and figure there were two sections for each class.

  126. Finn, idk what MS science is. Last year, DS had a “general science” class in eigth grade, for which he got high school credit. Midway through second semester, they took a sheet around to all their classes for teachers to initial hi, avg, or lo tracks (with much nicer names). That’s how kids were placed in classes. I had nothing to do with it, which makes me happy.

  127. Sociology question: I hear there are significant differences between the DC suburbs in Maryland and the DC suburbs of Virginia. Is this a racial divide, a political divide, an income divide, or what?

  128. RMS, there are more similarities than differences. Biggest difference I observed was that MD has a lot more Jews. My law firm was 80% Jewish and the only Orthodox associate said that “no REAL Jew would live in Virginia.” Most of my colleagues were by their own description simply cultural Jews, but none of them lived across the river.

  129. Rocky – I don’t think there’s much of a divide between MD and VA, and particularly not for the close-in DC suburbs. There’s a divide that I described a couple days with Prince George’s County, but that’s contrasted to the surrounding counties in the same state.

    An exception that Meme has pointed out is that, typically, Jews don’t cross the Potomac River (they live on the MD side only). Some maps I’ve looked at confirm this.

    As a whole, Maryland is bluer than Virginia (although our current governors have this backward), but that’s because Maryland’s population is so dominated by DC suburbs, Prince George’s County, and Baltimore and its surrounding suburbs. Virginia has much more land mass to rack up Republican votes in its far vaster rural areas, but that’s not to say that Maryland doesn’t have the exact same demographics in its northwestern panhandle (Frederick County, heading out to Deep Creek Lake), its eastern shore (lots of farms), and even its southern western shore (lots of Facebook jokes about the country folks in St. Mary’s County from naval aviators who get sent to Pax River NAS).

  130. Were Jews traditionally deed restricted in Virginia more than Maryland?

    Blast from that past c. 1951:

    “No part of land hereby conveyed shall ever be used, or occupied by, or sold , demised, transferred, conveyed unto, or in trust for, leased, or persons of negro blood or extraction, or to any rented or given to negro people or any person or person of the Semitic race, blood, or origin which racial description shall be deemed to include Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Persians, or Syrians, except that, this paragraph shall not be held to exclude partial occupancy of the premises by domestic servants of said parities hereto of the second part their heirs or assigns.”

  131. Hogan issued the order? Oh, hallelujah. Best thing he’s done as Governor.

    I have zero sympathy for the opponents. If they really cared about decreasing the education gap for disadvantaged students, they wouldn’t build a gazillion half-days and four-day weeks into the school calendar. Because *no one* ever pays attention to *anything* on a half-day, and 4-day weeks feel like a holiday and no one works because you’re too excited about the time off.

    Ditto for the faux tears about the struggles working parents will face to find daycare in August — spoken by people who have never had to scramble for daycare on the second Friday of [insert month here] because the school system decided to declare an “in service” day or make-up half-day. And how about starting holidays at the end of the day on Friday and resuming school Monday, instead of starting school Wednesday, letting out for Christmas on the 22nd, starting back Tuesday, letting out for the year on W-Th, etc. It’s much easier to be able to *plan for a whole week* of camp or daycare than it is to cover 123 miscellaneously scattered days off and partial days.

  132. As an aside, a Bethesda friend who knows that DS and Katie Ledecky trained with the same club team sent me a photo of Katie with the neighborhood kids taken before she took off for Stanford. Every one of those dozen plus kids was white. Looked like Mayberry instead of a diverse uber Totebag hood.

  133. Cordelia – so, here is the “benefit” of being divorced: losing your kids to college isn’t a big deal, because you’ve spent their childhood losing them for weeks at a time.

    I decided years ago that when the kids were gone, I could spend that time pining for them and feeling bad, or I could spend it enjoying myself, but no matter which option I chose, they were still going to be gone. So, I chose the latter, and to do that, I came up with the silver linings to their being away: less noise, less mess, the ability I suddenly had to read a book uninterrupted, etc.

    I also told myself that it was good for them to be gone – in my case, it was good for them to see their dad. In the case of college kids, it’s good for them to be on their own, learning, meeting people, mastering their independence. I told myself the benefits they were getting in being away were more important than whether I missed them.

    When they were home, I never wished they were gone, but when they were gone, I learned to enjoy my bits of freedom (from noise, mess, whatever) and to be grateful for the experiences they were having.

    I made it clear to them that I was okay, too, and we talked (ad nauseum, if you ask them) about “good missing” (we are all fine, and can’t wait to see each other again) and “bad missing” (we are falling apart and need to see each other again immediately or we will self destruct). I think those talks helped them miss me in a “good” way and helped them enjoy their time away without feeling guilty that they were having fun while I was sobbing away at home about their absence. (They have both told me that they appreciated this, and that they’d have been a lot more homesick if I had acted sad).

    I thought this mindset shift was essential for my emotional health, so I made it quickly and imho pretty effectively. Now, with DS at college and DD home, I can easily feel grateful for the change in dynamic at home, and for the life DS is living.

    Anyway, FWIW. I’ve shared this with a number of friends whose kids have left this year and last for college and it has seemed to help, so thought I’d throw it out here.

  134. Oh yeah, I should have asked you, too, LfB.

    I saw that same rant about “screwing parents who are trying to pay for daycare” on FB. (Spring Break daycare must be free.)

    I can sort of understand the argument that it gives them less time to prepare for AP exams. I can also understand an argument, if it were applicable, and I don’t think it is, that an early start could allow the first semester and its exams to conclude before Christmas vacation, but that only seems to be true in college.

    Otherwise, I’m a big proponent of letting summer vacation actually align with, well, summer.

  135. People who live here like to think/pretend that there are big differences between the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. As an outsider, they mostly seem to be very similar. When we looked for a house, we looked at both sides and ultimately decided on Va because of commutes (which is how many people pick between Md and Va). Bethesda and McLean are pretty similar. Potomac and Great Falls are pretty similar. Arlington and Chevy Chase. Historically, Md had much greater religious tolerance (and the laws to back it up), so I think some of that has persisted. More Jewish and Catholic people in Md. More Protestants in Va. I think Va state govt is better run but we have some crazy laws. Md is more on the books liberal but their govt is messier.

  136. Historical legal question: If you name was Hiram Cohen and you changed it to Henry Cooper and bought a deed restricted house in 1951 – what could happen? Could you be legally forced out of your house? Could your neighbors sue the former owner for damages?

  137. @Milo — nah, you didn’t need to ask me, my opinions have been pretty clearly expressed already. :-)

  138. @Rhett: Those deed restrictions are unconstitutional and so theoretically unenforceable. But I don’t know the historical timing (a/k/a when the courts started to enforce the Constitution over private property rights) to tell you what would have happened in 1951 vs. 1970.

  139. Late the conversation, but @Only Child – lots of great suggestions. i would add, it hasn’t already been said, that you approach the teacher on a “let us work together” approach, as opposed to a “I don’t think eliminating recess is a solution”. The teacher will come off as defensive, and you don’t want that. Ideas that have worked for my child is to allow for a standing desk. The teachers clear a section of the counter in the back of the classroom and allow for her to work from there whenever she needs to move around. Additionally, in group time when they sit on the floor, they have my child sit in the back, which gives her a greater amount of space to move and wiggle, while not distracting the other kids.

  140. Another difference for Totebag parents is that most private school are in DC and MD. There are a handful of coed secular schools in VA and a few girls’ schools but no boys’ schools. The disparity is striking. Not sure why because we were certainly not the only family making the daily river crossing on school days. The demand is there now but clearly was less when those schools were established.

  141. The woman who taught my Bradley class in Fairfax before saac was born is still a friend of mine. She is Jewish, her kids went to a Jewish school connected to the NOVA JCC, and she has plenty of local Jewish friends on FB. If they can’t get certain specialty foods, they seem to go to the district, but over the past couple years several new stores have become available and supermarkets have added specialty thimgs, at least according to their conversation.

    “The kids do well but I think that is more because of the parents not because of the school.” There was an elementary school teacher on my soccer team when we first moved here who told me to look to Title I schools for good teaching, that the reason the school in the wealthy area we lived in had such high scores was parent-initiated enrichment, not the teachers. As DS has moved to different schools, I see her view substantiated. It is particularly true for my son. Learning is no difficulty for him as long as he feels safe emotionally. The teachers who have dealt with kids in poverty, who are exposed to all kinds of problems wealthier kids don’t deal with, have no problem figuring out and providing what he needs, whereas so many teachers at $$ schools told me they were baffled, didn’t know what to do, had never seen a kid like him before. I often got the feeling that they found his intelligence difficult to deal with as well, and there are one or two for whom I think a black kid like him was hard. Between history of being bullied and unprotected and being black, there are real differences between him and most of the kids in his classes now. That may be difficult for some teachers, idk, but they certainly get him. He is in a Title I school for the first time ever; two of his classes are in a two-story building with twenty classrooms that was just built over the spring and summer. The cafeteria was also expanded. With 900 kids having lunch at once, it gets noisy, but the outdoor covered seating area was also expanded. I believe his classes have no more than 22 students; during the first couple weeks of school, an AP reworks schedules to meet the legal class size requirements. Classes are cancelled & combined with others, or kids are moved. I told her about Isaac and asked her to please not move him. She said she couldn’t make any promises, but she’d try (this is how I found out his bio class is a big deal there–there are two sections and they were absolutely not being changed). Idk what other schools’ science rooms look like, but this one looks well-supplied to me. His schedule has not been changed. Hooray!

    The huge school means six minutes between classes, because they are moving between buildings bigger than my whole HS, but he doesn’t seem to find that a problem. I recall a psychiatrist laughing at the “gifted” classes in some neighborhoods here. Whereas gifted are supposedly 2% of the population, there are schools where 20-25% of kids are in them. So much for recognizing that those kids may learn differently! At this point, past learning is as important as aptitude in making up classes. I suspect that he almost has an unofficial school-within-a-school, rendering the huge number of students unproblematic. He was surprised last week that when there is a fight, kids flock to it to film it, and there is a subreddit of fights at his school. Of course I don’t like that, but he is staying out, knows it’s “stupid”, so as long as no one touches him, he’s fine. I don’t want anyone to find out how well he can fight. We still hate this area in general, and he is doing well enough that we probably could move at the end of the semester or school year, but now I like the damn school! predictable, but still frustrating

  142. Scarlett – I think it is because of (1) demand in DC for private schools, (2) more cross-over between Md and DC when compared to Va and DC (generally easier to go from Md – DC since no bridges, the people who do private are all in NW DC), (3) more religious independent schools in Md because of the historical issues (Catholic and Jewish Day schools). I don’t think there are any independent Catholic schools in Va other than Oakcrest.

  143. Risley, what a difference from my experience as a single mom!

    Since DS was born, I think we have slept at different addresses 14 times. He has called me most of those nights. He is already worried about how he can move away from me for college. I tell him that I hope his is excited enough about what he is doing to see it as “moving to” rather than “moving from” me. I may introduce “good missing” next time that comes up. Of course, these days he alternates between “how will I live without you?” and “leave me alone! I can’t wait to get away from you”.

    Advocate mom, great post! It is so important to speak up for our kids before they can do so themselves. Otherwise they can get the idea that they are not worth speaking up for.

  144. Thanks for the replies! I will keep and eye on the kid and see how things are going. Things seemed fine the first two days. It is smaller class for now. Another kid hugged him goodbye and he stood there rolling his eyes and not hugging back. I have another school nearby we can try if he does not like it there.

    Also, I liked the advice to let him work through his feelings about being around too many kids. I will not push him. I was thinking more along the lines of “toughen up little guy”, but agree he is still far too young and I should let him get comfortable on his own schedule.

  145. Risley’s comments on the empty nest are very wise. I thought it was very hard when DS1 left for college, since he was the most talkative at the dinner table. But I have always appreciated my own parents for their lack of clinginess- They seem to always be available when I need them, but I never had that feeling of “obligation” of I should call my mother because she expects it. The result is that I love to call them and see them, and in retirement I moved to be near them…. So I approached it very similarly to Risley. I still have DS3 and I know we will miss him so much, but also… we will be able to: do the Great Loop, sail to the Bahamas, live somewhere exotic for a month….etc etc.. !!

  146. “we will be able to: do the Great Loop” !!! :) !!! :) !!!

    In your sailboat, or are you going to get a powerboat?

  147. Milo- we sold the sailboat because we realized we aren’t really empty nesters yet😛 The power boat is so much more practical. But maybe when we are true empty nesters we’ll go back? What do you think? I think the bridges will be a pain! We had a 63 foot mast.

  148. Update: What a difference a few days makes. At dinner tonight, we asked DS if he wanted to talk tonight since we still haven’t had a chance. He replied “No, I worked it out. I just needed some time to adjust.” Then we had a nice chat about what’s been going on in school, what he likes, what he doesn’t.

  149. Just about any sailboat needs to be demasted to come down the rivers. I’d be concerned that a sailboat with a 63′ mast is going to have a correspondingly deep keel, which could make the trip unnavigable.

    I sailed on this to Nova Scotia, and I think its mast around 60-some feet. They cranked me up to the top of it to fix a light–it’s high. It’s an enormous boat:

    Since you have to motor anyway, a trawler’s just easier and a lot more spacious. Now when you go back to the Bahamas, that’s different, but I obviously don’t need to tell you that.

  150. Wow she’s a beauty! But no way would I dare go to the top of the mast! Our sailboat had a keel designed for shallow waters (I think it’s called a winged keel) she had a 5.5 foot draft- good for sailing to the Keys…

    Yep I agree a trawler is the best option for the Great Loop.

  151. Regarding empty nest, there is a negative role model from our high school. The mother visits her daughter at college every other weekend – and in the process has destroyed her daughter’s social life. My daughter has some friends at the same school and her reputation is a girl who clings to her mother. It’s really unfair to do this to a college freshman. Far better to sail away and let your kids live their own lives!

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